The Justice Department late Monday asked a House panel for more time to determine "what if any responsive documents may exist'' to support President Trump's widely disputed claims that the Obama administration had tapped the telephones at the president's New York offices in advance of the November election.
The House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible links between Trump associates and the Russian government, had imposed a Monday deadline to provide any supporting evidence. No such information had been transmitted by Monday evening. Instead, Justice confirmed in a statement that it had asked for additional time to "review the request in compliance with the governing legal authorities.''
A spokesman for Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and California Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel's ranking Democrat, said Monday that lawmakers are urging Justice to respond no later than the panel's looming March 20 hearing, when FBI Director James Comey and other former Obama administration officials are set to testify before the House committee.
"If the committee does not receive a response by then, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory (subpoena) process if our questions continue to go unanswered,'' committee spokesman Jack Langer said in a statement.
Shortly after Trump set off a political firestorm in a series of tweets earlier this month, Comey pressed Justice officials to offer a rebuke of the claims. Justice has yet to address the matter.
Comey's effort, pursued through intermediaries, was followed by statements from former director of national intelligence James Clapper, who flatly denied such surveillance efforts.
In recent days, Republican and Democratic members of Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have stepped forward, indicating that they knew of no evidence to back Trump's assertions.
White House officials, meanwhile, have sought to shift the terms of Trump's claim, arguing that "wire tapping" could cover a number of forms of surveillance.
Neither Trump nor his aides have provided evidence for any of this, saying that is the purpose of the congressional investigation.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer cited news reports "about other aspects of surveillance that have occurred." Spicer said there have been "numerous reports from a variety of outlets over the last couple months that seemed to indicate that there has been different types of surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election."
"Is it legal for a sitting President to be 'wire tapping' a race for president prior to an election?" Trump said in one of his March 4 tweets. "Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!"
McCain told CNN over the weekend that Trump needs to provide such evidence.
"So I think the president has one of two choices," he said, "either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve — because if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we've got a serious issue here to say the least."
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told CNN that "I'm not Inspector Gadget" and "I'm not in the job of having evidence. That's what investigations are for."